While Melbourne may have fallen for the enoteca model of wine bar somewhat earlier, it wasn’t until the arrival of Andy Leigh and Lewis Phiddian’s Union Street Wine in early 2014 that Geelong properly succumbed to its charms. Gutting an old shopfront with the help of family and friends, the pair installed a bespoke polished hardwood bar and soon started spinning the flywheel on their meat slicer.
However, when the duo first flung those doors open, they were painfully aware that their project was no certain success. “We opened Union Street Wine when Geelong was still a pretty slow town, with not much going on,” says Leigh. “They were pretty dark times around town, with so many big business closing, but it was important to us to be here and be part of the change. We’re proud to be in Geelong.”
Leigh and Phiddian took things a step further, too, accompanying a selection of wines that paid homage to local lights, both those well-known and more avant-garde, with an eclectic mix of top makers from around the globe, with many swimming outside the mainstream. That selection was built on the best formula: wines they loved. While their individual preferences sometimes stray in different directions – accounting for a pleasingly diverse offer – their approach to dispensing them has always been very much aligned.
With the takeaway trade keeping them busy, it wasn’t long before Leigh and Phiddian took on the lease for the adjoining shopfront, giving their retail customers a dedicated space, as well as making more room for those settling in for a while. “The bar has expanded food offerings and by the glass options as people are now settling in for longer stays. We also have an al fresco area out the front, so that’s been great!” says Leigh.
With no kitchen, the menu at Union Street Wine is very much down the cheese and charcuterie line, with conservas plumping up the offer. All 150-odd bottles are available to drink in or take home, with a small corkage fee charged inhouse. There are ten by-the-glass options at a minimum, with a Coravin handy to access more premium bottles, and it being an unusual day for them not to open a few more bottles to satisfy their curiosity or that of their customers, or both.
“We’re a pretty casual relaxed venue, so there’s no intimidation for customers to open up and ask all the things they want to ask about wine,” says Leigh. “We always give people a chance to taste their wines before they buy. So, if it’s not for them, they can choose something else. We go from just a casual weekday knock-off glass to sit-in sessions, involving bottles and plenty of food specials to make a meal of it. We want people to be as comfortable as they would be at home, never rushing anyone on.”